- This item may not be visible after a few more days, so catch it now: A very weird “hotspot” turned up in the satellite water temperature record at the far eastern end of Lake Superior. For a short while, water temps excursed from the 30s up to the 60s F. Instrument Error? Cargo ship on fire? UFO exploding? STORMY baiting and then rounding up firenados? No one can tell me, though I suspect that the truth is out there.
- The FCC is trying to redefine “broadband” as 25 Mbps down / 3Mbps up. The big carriers are livid. And what are they saying? “Nobody needs Internet that fast!” Just like Esther Dyson said that no home computer user would ever need a CPU as fast as the 286.
- The dropoff in some ebook author revenues this past fall (which many blamed on Kindle Unlimited) may have been a sales cycle thing, unrelated to Amazon.
- Dare we hope that this new Facebook feature will be the end of hoaxes and hate memes? Be on notice that I intend to use it a lot.
- Slashdot inadvertently invited all the Pascal-haters out of their caves for one more hatefest. Heh. Maybe not a hatefest. The emotion I pick up when C partisans’ eyes roll back in their heads over Pascal is not hate, but…fear.
- Angry Twitter posts are harmful to your health. Duhhh. Angry anything is harmful to your health. Anger is jack-in-the-box suicide: You can’t tell quite when, but the more you turn that crank, the sooner the thing’s gonna pop.
- The Pirate Bay has a phoenix logo and a countdown timer on their old site, suggesting that they’re coming back online on February 1. I consider this unlikely, but I’ve been surprised by these guys before.
- From the same site: Dozens of Pirate Bay clones are not nearly as useful as the real thing.
- And while we’re talking about (if not like) pirates, whatever happened to Antigua’s blanket permission to distribute copyrighted files? Lots of news about that in midlate 2013, nothing since.
- The highest-paid YouTube video author films herself unwrapping Disney toys. That’s it. And for that she earned $5M. I think I’m in the wrong damned business.
- Verizon refuses to stop using tower-side cookies (which can’t be deleted by mobile device users) even as AT&T has caved on the issue. The solution is to stop using Verizon. That’s what Carol and I are about to do.
- Relax. Microsoft did not pull the plug on Win7 updates on 1/13. That won’t happen until 2020. What’s going away are new OS features and phone support, two things I don’t think the world desperately needs.
- I like molten lava as much as the next guy. (Just wait until you read my novella Firejammer, coming out–finally–this spring.) That said, I’m not sure I like it quite this much…
- With January only half over, the Great Lakes ice cover is now up to 34%. Lake Erie has pretty much iced over completely.
- Britain’s Royal Society has published some evidence that people born during solar maxima do not live as long as people born during solar minima. It may be folate depletion by UV. Or something else. However, the correlation appears to be real. (Thanks to Neil Rest for the link.) Carol and I are solar minima babies, whew.
- Discovered two very good red wines recently: Menage a Trois Red, and Menage a Trois Midnight. Both are dry reds, both are fruit-forward, and (in contradiction of the vintner’s Web writeups) neither has any detectable oak. I guess if you’re going to get the hipster market you have to claim oak, even if you lie about it. In this case, nothing of value was lost.
- I doubt that my readers are dumb enough to think you can lose weight by ingesting chemistry sets like Slim-Fast. But just in case, read what Tom Naughton says about recent diet rankings in content-free publications like US News. Hint: The same doofi who bleat endlessly against “processed foods” (which now means “any foods I don’t like”) are endorsing fructose cocktails like Slim-Fast over Atkins and paleo.
- Popular Mechanics lists the 14 best cities in America for startups. None are in Silicon Valley, and all are in relatively low-cost areas. Maybe hipster city cachet is finally starting to lose its cachet. Or so we can hope.
- Lots has happened in CPU architectures since the 1980s, when a lot of us learned it. (I started a little earlier, but the IBM PC brought most of us to a new starting gate at the same time.) Here’s a decent summary. One consequence of all this is that human-written assembly language is less of a win over compilers, and the best reason to learn assembly these days is to understand what your damned compilers are up to in there.
- Before he broke into the SF business, Keith Laumer was an ace model airplane designer. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- Physically small, fanless PCs have been around for awhile, and I was bullish on them until I began using Dell USFF (ultra-small form factor) machines like the Optiplex 780, which are pretty small and almost entirely silent. Should we settle for 1.6 GHz? Only if there’s a specific application in mind, like education (think RPi) or embeddedness.
- Bill Cherepy sends us news of a thermostatic butter keeper that can keep a stick of butter (block? It’s a form factor we don’t make in the US) at any arbitrary temp from 15 to 23 degrees C. Butter is definitely coming back into its own, bravo halleluia!
- Yes, I changed my mind and signed up for Twitter, after pondering somebody else using my name and creating a Fake Jeff Duntemann. (Thanks to Bob Fergert for prompting me to imagine the unimaginable–and I’m a good imaginer.) More on this a little later. I have yet to post anything due to lots of top-priority projects here, but I’ll get to it within the week.
- Dietary saturated fat is not related to plasma fatty acids. In other words, it doesn’t matter how much saturated fat you eat; your blood levels of fatty acids are controlled by other factors. What other factors? Care to guess? Are you reading this on Contrapositive Diary? Is the Pope from Argentina? Is the atomic weight of ytterbium 173.04? It’s the carbs. Wow. Whodathunkit? (Thanks to Jonathan O’Neal, who was the first of several to put me on the scent.)
- There is actually a prize for the worst sex scene in literary fiction. It is not a coveted award, and I guess is seen as a sort of booby prize among literary writers. The WSJ recently posted a brief guide on how to avoid writing such scenes. (I avoid writing really bad sex scenes by not writing sex scenes at all. Works amazingly well.)
- Two people in my circles who don’t know one another have independently recommended Ting as a cell carrier. First impression: Sounds too good to be true, and sheesh, they were created by Tucows. (That said, Tucows is no longer what most of us grayhairs remember it being.) Any other opinions? Getting new phones and a new carrier is my next big tech research project.
- I’d also like to hear some early impressions of Lollipop, if anybody’s got it or is about to get it.
- Here’s something you don’t see every day; in fact, I don’t think I’ve seen it even once, ever: A square flat-panel monitor, with a 1920 X 1920 resolution. Assuming these survive their launch (not a sure thing by any means) I’d be sorely tempted. As the story says, “Enough of the ultra wideness already.”
- I wasn’t sure whether good technical books could be created as reflowable ebooks, but Yury Magda is doing it. He has five self-published Arduino-related titles now, and what I can see in the samples looks damned good. I’m going to buy a couple, less for the Arduino content as for how he does the layout. (Thanks to Jim Strickland for putting me on to this.)
- Gizmodo/Sploid has a very nice short item on the XB-70 Valkyrie, certainly the most beautiful and possibly the second-scariest military aircraft ever built. Do watch the video of how the second prototype crashed–and if you’re ever within striking distance of Dayton, don’t miss the other Valkyrie at the Air Force museum there. (Thanks to Bruce Baker for the link.)
- Barðarbunga is emitting over twice as much sufur dioxide every day as all of Europe’s smokestacks put together, and the volcano is still hard at it. SO2 is well-known to be a powerful cooling factor in the atmosphere. Combine that with a quiet Sun, and nobody really knows what might happen.
- Best video illustration of how tumbler locks work that I’ve ever seen.
- For that special, short, hairy, ironic someone in your life: You can get a genuine Flying Nun-inspired Weta-made Bofur winter hat, shipped all the way from New Zealand. Not cheap and not sure if it’ll arrive before Christmas, but if this winter keeps going like it’s going, you’ll be all set to face dragons, ice ages, or both.
- This overlong, (10,000 word) wandering, muddled, and occasionally brilliant essay is a must-read if you feel (like I do) that tribalism and tribal hatred are the greatest threat facing humanity today. We’re precisely one month away from the midterms, and my phone is ringing a dozen times a day with haters demanding that I hate whole groups of people who have little in common with one another beyond their being hated by the callers. Here’s a clue, folks: Politics does not give you permission to hate. If you hate, you’re a hater…and those of us who don’t hate know who the haters are.
- Jim Strickland sends a link to new research on creating organic solar cells based on short vertical nanopillars that look like well-trimmed blades of grass, or a short-pile shag carpet.
- Here’s as clear a statement as I’ve ever seen why not to play with bitcoin, quite apart from the fact that law enforcement probably considers posession of bitcoins ample evidence of criminal activity. No thanks.
- There was 53K of RAM on our planet in 1953. And damned if the computers didn’t want 64.
- A case that was a long time brewing may establish additional precedent that DRM is an antitrust violation. Actually, what DRM really does is turn honest customers into pirates.
- Michigan vineyards are having their worst grape harvest ever this year, thanks to last winter’s record-breaking cold. That’s a shame; Michigan makes some damned fine wines, especially sweet wines, which we drink when we’re in Chicago. (I don’t see them here in Colorado.)
- Wines, yes: Back in 1973 I had my first can of wine. The other night I had my second. My first thought: The Seventies are returning, egad. My second thought: Hey, that’s not bad wine!
- The real reason there will be no Windows 9: Some lazy code jockeys will mistake “Windows 95″ and “Windows 98″ for “Windows 9.” This makes sense to me, and if it reduces the universe’s bug supply even a little, it’s a very, very small price to pay.
- Wow. There are no longer any cartoons on Saturday Morning broadcast TV. Which doesn’t mean that the universe is not awash in cartoons, most of them simply hideous.
- Before reading this article, I had never heard of Axe Deodorant. Now, all else being equal, I’d rather smell like nothing. But do I read here that there’s an SKU with the scent of…solder? How about Bakelite terminal strips plus capacitor wax?
- Pertinent to the above: The last aftershave I think I ever used regularly was called Nuts & Bolts in, I believe, 1971.
- Lenin’s head is missing. It was last seen rolling around a forest near Berlin 23 years ago, but nobody can find it now, even though it weighs three and a half tons. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- Evidently Lenin loses his head a lot. Somehow that doesn’t surprise me. Shame it didn’t happen in 1890 or so.
- How far does $100 go in your state? (Backstory here.) Be careful; the figures are state-wide averages. It’s much worse in urban cores. (Thanks to Tony Kyle for the link.)
- If you’ve never seen one, here’s an ad-farm article. I’ve often wondered if these are machine generated, written by people who don’t know English well, or machine-obfuscated copies of legitimate articles, intended to duck news providers’ plagiarism bots.
- Wired volcanologist Eric Klemetti reports that a swarm of small earthquakes may presage an eruption from Iceland’s Barðarbunga volcano. The volcano is interesting because its name contains the ancient letter eth (ð) something I don’t recall seeing on Web news sites in a lot of years. To generate an eth on Windows, by the way, just enter Alt-0240.
- Wired misses as often as it hits. One of its supposed futurists is telling us that the educated elite should be able to license reproduction, and dictate who can and who cannot have babies. By the way, his description of who is unfit to reproduce sounds a lot like the nonwhite urban poor. Articles of this sort are about as wise as “The Case for Killing Granny,” which put Newsweek in a world of hurt back in 2009.
- To make you love this guy even more, let me quote a summary of presentation he did on Red Ice Radio: “Zoltan argues that ultimately technology will be helpful to the ‘greater good’ and must be implemented, even if by force and even if there are causalities along the way. In the second hour, Zoltan philosophizes about technology as evolution and luck as the prime mover of the human experience. He talks about maximizing on the transhumanist value for the evolution of our species. We parallel transhumanism with religious thinking. He’ll speak in favor of controversial subjects such as a transhumanist dictatorship, population control, licenses to have children and people needing to justify their existence in front of a committee, much like the Fabian Socialist George Bernard Shaw’s idea.” If I were a transhumanist, I’d be ripping him several new ones right now. Or is transhumanism really that nasty?
- Nobel laureate physicist Frank Wilczek is not proposing thiotimoline, nor anything else (I think) having to do with time travel. He believes that he’s broken the temporal symmetry of nature…which sounds devilish and full of interesting possibilities. As soon as I figure out what the hell it all means, time crystals will land in one of my hard SF concepts in -5 milliseconds.
- Michael Covington reminded us on Facebook that there are a surprising number of plurals with no singular form, including kudos, biceps, suds, and shenanigans. (I do wonder, as does Bill Lindley, if the very last bubble in the sink is a sud.)
- That discussion in turn reminded me of a concept for an END piece in PC Techniques that I took notes on but never wrote: the KUDOS operating system, which lacks error messages but pays you a compliment every time you do anything right. In 1992 I was thinking of purely textual compliments, but these days I imagine a spell-checker that plays “Bravo!” on the speakers every time you spell a word correctly. Wouldn’t that be fun?
- Someone asked me via email the other day: How thick is 16 gauge aluminum? I’m old: My first impulse was to grab my caliper and measure some. My second impulse was to google it. This answers the question, for steel as well as aluminum.
- The page cited above is part of a large and fascinating Web compilation called “How Many?” and it’s a dictionary of measurement units. Other tabulations include shot pellet sizes and the Danjon scale for lunar eclipse brightness.
- Metallic cesium figures, um, explosively in my novel Drumlin Circus. You can evidently distill it on your barbecue grill. I’m guessing you shouldn’t do that right before a thunderstorm, however. (Thanks to Jim Strickland for the link.)
- Speaking of explosions, here’s a map summarzing the legality of fireworks by state. I thought more states restricted them than actually do. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- It’s not brand-new, but I stumbled on the Actobotics product line in the latest edition of Nuts & Volts. It’s a very nice Erector/Meccano-ish system with more robust parts & real metal gears. No, not cheap–but neither was Meccano, at least on the scale I used it when I was building things like The Head of R&D.
- If you’re interested in following the progress of the recent collapse of sunspot activity, don’t forget Solar Ham. More data than SpaceWeather, and you don’t to know anything about amateur radio to find it useful. Given that the peak of the current solar cycle was probably this past March, coming down so hard so fast is something of a phenomenon.
- There is a utility that finds loops in videos suitable for making animated GIFs. Sometimes technology advances the human condition and sometimes, well…
- There’s something called the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, and if the maps are to be believed, I may be speaking it, though it sounds New Yawkish to me. This is a tweak on Inland North American English. Somebody oughta do an app that can tell me what accent I actually have. I’m a Chicagah boy but have been told I don’t sound like one. (Thanks to the Most Rev Sam’l Bassett for the link.)
- Pete Albrecht sends us a list of current and defunct bookstore chains worldwide. I spent so much money at Kroch’s & Brentano’s 40 years ago that the place should still be around but, alas, it’s not.
- If you’ve secretly longed to see a photo of Alfred Hitchcock eating a giant pretzel, or classic mustard ads of the 1950s, well, it’s all here. (Yes, I’m a sucker for vintage weirdness, but this is good vintage weirdness.)
- A guy is working on 3D printing with molten steel, via TIG welding.
- I’m really good with words. Maybe that’s why a college friend said 40-odd years ago: “The trouble with you, Jeff, is that you’re too damned happy!” Everything is connected, I guess, and now there’s science indicating that human language is biased toward happiness.
- More research on ice ages: They may be made possible by the isolation of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by the Ithsmus of Panama. (Full paper here.) I’ve heard this before, but there’s more data behind it now.
- Some recently discovered fossilized poop in Spain suggests that I’m not really a Neanderthal after all. Bummer.
- I’ve always been of two minds about Mensa, for reasons I really can’t talk about here. Now there’s a Mensa dating site. I think I’m of three minds about that. Maybe five.
- There’s an exploitable software flaw in the Curiosity rover, stemming from arcane math in the Lempel-Ziv-Oberhumer compression algorithm. I hope the rover isn’t running XP, or (judging by the hype) it would have been totally pnwed since April 10. (Thanks to Pete Albrecht for the link.)
- This guy says he could tornado-proof the Midwest with a couple of 1,000-foot-high walls. Me, I say, implement STORMY. Then stand back.
- Meditation may not always be the unalloyed good that its proponents insist it is. I’m researching this further and will do a full entry on it at some point, as it’s a matter of serious interest to me. I have a theory that meditation is only one half of a single effective psychiatric process, and without its other half it can aggravate psychosis and even cause a drift toward schizophrenia.
- Here’s a terrific collection of photos of steampunk gear from Dark Roasted Blend. Follow the links to the mechanical calculators page if you haven’t seen it before. (It’s old, and I linked it from here some years back.)
- DRB publishes periodic “feel good” collections of visual odd lots that are mostly 50s and 60s nostalgia. Here’s the latest. Too many actresses, not enough classic cars. But if you like classic actresses, well, wow.
- I’ve been gone for two weeks, and the pile is still pretty high. So let’s get to work:
- There are now three million Raspberry Pi boards in the world, and counting.
- This chap has designed one into a tablet. Not too surprising, as the original SoC device was created for smartphones.
- Here’s Todd Johnson’s solar triple thermoacoustic engine. I immediately asked, “What’s the physics here?” and Todd, being the consummate physicist, provided the link. Spooky cool.
- From Craig’s Lost Chicago: Photos of many extinct Chicago restaurants, some famous, some very obscure. I’m a little surprised that I had been to so few.
- Which led directly to Craig’s Lost Toys. Doesn’t list Mr. Machine, but does have a photo of the Puffer Kite in its original packaging.
- Another look at Chicago’s past: How Chicago Rocked the 60s.
- If you have any interest in the pulps at all, definitely take a look at the Pulp Magazines Project, which has legal scans of a great many pulp mags, including lots in the SFF category.
- Here’s another, similar archive for comics, with the difference that, although free, you have to create an account to access the books. May still be worthwhile if you’re big on comics. (Thanks to Stuart Anderson for the link.)
- Sounds like Facebook echo chambers to me: Groups promote anonymity, diminish personal responsibility, and encourage reframing harmful actions as ‘necessary for the greater good.’ (Thanks to Jonathan O’Neal for the link.)
This took me by surprise: Over in that global laboratory of abnormal psychology that most of us call Facebook, a man I’ve know for almost 35 years grew furious at me. My crime? A longstanding contention of mine that doubt lies at the heart of the scientific method. Note well that we were not talking about Issues. Not evolution, not climate, not even the Paleo Diet. None of that had even come up. No: We were talking about the scientific method itself.
I’ve seen this weird “doubt undermines science” business come up before, though never directed at me personally. Nonsense, of course. Doubt really does lie at the heart of the scientific method. This is not some opinion of mine that I pulled out of thin air. Hey, if somebody wants to start a new game show called “Are You Smarter Than Karl Popper?” I can recommend the first season’s contestants.
Here’s my understanding: The scientific method requires a trigger, and that trigger is doubt. Some smart guy or gal looks at something we think we know, often but not always after examining a pile of new data, and says, “This smells fishy. Let’s take a closer look and see what we can learn.” That initial insight leads to hypothesis, experiment, repeatable results, and eventually (one would hope) new or corrected knowledge. Absent doubt, nobody thinks anything smells fishy, no closer look happens, and whatever booboo might be in there somewhere never comes to light. Without doubt, there is no science.
It’s pretty much that simple.
So how do we explain my excoriation for stating the obvious? I have a theory, heh. It involves those idiotic Facebook memes that set religion against science. Some are worse than others; my personal antifavorite is the one that reads, “Religion flies aircraft into buildings. Science flies spacecraft to the Moon.” Gosh, was it the Episcopalians? And did engineering maybe have a role? Let it pass; there are plenty more. What they represent is tribal chest-thumping by people who want to replace religion with science. That sounds fishy to me. I probed a little and began to get a suspicion that what the chest-thumpers really want is the certainty of religion under a new name.
What tipped me off is the fact that the chest-thumpers were always talking about scientific knowledge, but never the scientific method. The reason is pretty simple: The scientific method is the single most subversive system of thought that humanity has ever created. Nothing that we know (or think we know) is safe from the scientific method. Not even physical laws. Back in the 1950s there was a physical law called the Law of Parity, holding that nature does not differentiate left from right at the subtomic level. Some physicists thought the Law of Parity smelled fishy. They put their heads together, came up with some truly brilliant experiments, and snick! They nailed the Law of Parity through an eye socket. They nailed it because they doubted it. And we’re not talking the Paleo Diet here. We’re talking a law of physics.
That scares people with a strong craving for certainty. At this point we need to talk a little bit about the religious impulse. Note well that I am not talking about religion itself here. I’m talking about the primal hunger for certain things that religion provides. The two biggies are meaning and certainty. (Belonging is a third biggie, but I feel that religion inherits the hunger for belonging from its primal sibling, the tribal impulse. I’ll have to take that up another time.) As anyone who’s read Viktor Frankl has learned, “meaning” is an important but slippery business. I’ve thought about it a lot, and it looks to me like the meaning we see in our lives grows out of order. There is huge comfort in living lives that follow a predictable template. We all imagine lives lived reliably in a certain way. We do not imagine chaotic lives, and generally avoid chaos when we can. (We may grumble about the template we’re currently living, but what we want is a better template, not chaos.) When chaos strikes, our lives can quickly move from meaningful to meaningless. A need for certainty follows from the need for order. We want to be certain that we’ve chosen a path that leads toward meaning. As often as not, this means choosing templates that work for us and embracing them without doubt. Some people take this too far, and become reactionaries or fanatics who insist that the templates they’ve discovered are the only ones that anyone should embrace. Alas, this is where the religious impulse gets tangled up in the tribal impulse, which, unimpeded by laws or cultural norms, gallops straight toward genocide.
Religion satisfies the religious impulse by providing us with wisdom narratives that suggest life templates, calendars of rituals and festivals that repeat down the years and reinforce a sense of the orderly passing of time, and saints as heroes whose very meaningful lives may be emulated. (I hope my religious friends will relax a little here and look closely at what I’m saying: I am not denying that God is behind religion. I’m suggesting the mechanisms by which God gets our attention and calls us home.)
What’s happening in our secular era is that religion is becoming less prevalent and (in our own culture, at least) less strident. People who feel the religious impulse strongly need to get their meaning (via order) and certainty somewhere else. Science is handy. Science makes for bad religion, however, because it creates its own heretics and subverts its own wisdom narratives. It creates disorder via doubt, in the cause of creating new order that more accurately reflects physical reality. Certainty in science is always tentative: What the scientific method gives, the scientific method can take away.
This makes people of certain psychologies batshit nuts.
I’ll leave it there for now. I’m something of an anomaly, in that my need for order doesn’t march in lockstep with any need for certainty. I’m an empiricist. I’ve created an orderly and meaningful life that works for me, but when circumstances require change, I grit my teeth and embrace the change. Incremental change is one way to avoid chaos, after all: Deal with it a little at a time, and you won’t have to deal with an earthquake later on.
In a sense, I live my life by the scientific method. Sometimes I doubt that that what I’m doing is the right thing for me. I stop, think about it, and often discover a better way. Doubt keeps pointing me in the right direction, as it does for science. Certainty, well…that points in the opposite direction, toward brittleness and chaos. Science doesn’t go there. None of us should either.
- Our new concrete gets its sealer coat tomorrow, and once it dries it’ll be (finally!) done. I’ll post a photo. So far we think it’s gorgeous.
- This article has been shared again and again and again on Facebook, and it caught my attention because it echoes something I wrote about in 2009: That because our stuff is lasting longer, we need less stuff, be it forks or cars. And the cars are piling up…or are they? Alas, the article is nonsense (it did smell a little funny to me) and here’s the point-by-point takedown.
- Here’s the best detailed article on bacteriophage therapy I’ve seen in quite awhile. It’s a hard read, but a good one. Sooner or later, as antibiotics fail us one by one, we’re going to have to go this way. (Phages look very cool, as well.)
- The scientific method wins again: We thought we knew the physics behind same-material static electricity. We were wrong. Doubt really does lie at the very heart of science, in that if we don’t doubt what we think we know, we have no chance of finding our mistakes.
- Now that eggs aren’t evil anymore, it’s worth exploring all the various ways to prepare them. If you like hard-boiled eggs, here’s the best explanation I’ve seen of how to boil them so that they’ll peel easily and without divots.
- Adobe’s Creative Cloud was down for some time. The issue’s been resolved, but it just confirms my ancient suspicion that putting everything on the cloud is a really bad idea. If I can’t access my software, I can’t work. Pretty much end of story.
- Blue light keeps you awake. Staying awake shortens your life. So as the day winds down, Turn the Damned Thing Off. Then read a book until you’re sleepy. I recommend any substantial history book, with a special nod to histories of the Byzantine Empire. (Thanks to Dermot Dobson for the link.)
- This is the company that makes the machines that play the songs on ice cream trucks. Or at least the ones in the UK.